17th New York Infantry Regiment's Civil War Historical Sketch

From The 3rd Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Military Statistics


The Seventeenth regiment infantry, N. Y. S. V., or, "West¬chester Chasseurs'' was organized in the city of New York, and composed of companies recruited as follows:

A Yonkers Westchester Co Capt. Chas. H. Smith
B Port Chester Westchester Co Capt. Nelson B. Bartram
C Morrisiana Westchester Co Capt. John W. Lyon
D New York city   Capt. Chas. A. Johnson
E New York city   Capt. Chas. G. Stone
F Sing Sing Rockland Co Capt. Franklin J. Davis
G Nyack Westchester Co Capt. Jas. H. Demarest
H Norwich Chenang Co Capt. James Tyrrell
I Newark Wayne Co Capt. Andrew Wilson
K Warsaw Wyoming Co Capt. Gideon H. Jenkins


One company recruited for the regiment at Tarrytown, West¬chester county, by Capt. Wm. Chalmers, was transferred to the Thirty-second regiment. The several companies were accepted at the following dates, viz; Company A, April 23d; company D, May 1st; companies B and E, May 3d; company C, May 4th; companies F and G, May 7th; companies H and I, May 10th; company K (Capt. Jenkins), May 21st. On the 14th of May, the regiment was numbered and accepted into the State service; on the 18th, the election of Henry S. Lansing as colonel, Thomas F. Morris as lieutenant colonel, and Chas. A. Johnson as major was confirmed, and, on the 20th, it was ordered to be immediately mustered into the service of the United States. The several companies were mustered into the service of the United Statess as follows: A, C and D, May 20th; E, May 21st; B, F and I; May 22d; G, H and K, May 24th. The regiment was finally mustered in May 28th.

It is perhaps due to the regiment to say, that its officers claim that recruiting for it began on the 16th of April and ended on the 5th of May, 1861; that it was successively numbered " Six," " Eleven," and "Seventeen," and its organization delayed by the action of the State Military Board for reasons that were then deemed sufficient; that the headquarters of the regiment were established at the, corner of Rector street and Broadway New York, in a store, the rent of which ($12,000 per annum) was paid by the Union Defense Committee; that it occupied the City Hall barracks for about six weeks, without uniforms, and was then moved (June 15) to Camp Washington, Staten Island.

On the 8th of June, seven hundred and twenty-two United States percussion muskets were issued to the regiment, and also one hundred common and eighteen wall tents — the latter not received until after the regiment reached Washington. On the 14th of June, uniforms were received, viz: light blue pants and dark blue jackets, of strict regulation pattern. On the 21st of June, it left the State, via New Jersey, Harrisburg and Baltimore, and arrived in Washington on the 23d. The expenditure by the State on account of the regiment up to the 16th of August, 1861, was $41,983.22, exclusive of subsistence and quarters. The expen¬diture by the Union Defense Committee was $2,351.58. Soon after its arrival in Washington the regiment was sent to Fort Ellsworth, at Alexandria, Va. In the "reconnoissance in force" of July, and the battle of Bull Run, it was in the second brigade (Col. Davies) of the fifth division (Colonel Miles), and shared in the movements of the reserve — (see 16th regiment). In September it was moved to Fairfax Seminary, where in addition to ordinary picket and camp duties, it took part in the reconnoissance to Mason's Hill. In October it was sent to Hall's Hill, where it spent the winter of 1861-2. Here the tents issued to the regiment by the State were exchanged for Sibley's (October), and the smooth bore muskets for Springfield rifles calibre 58 (February, 1862). In March company G was consolidated with the other companies, and a company of three years' men, under Captain Armstrong, transferred from the 53d regiment to its place.

The official record of assignment to duty is as follows: August 4th, 1861, stationed at Fort Ellsworth; October 15th, Butterfield's brigade of Fitz John Porter's division ; March 13th, 1862, Butter¬field's brigade, Porter's division (1st), Heintzelman's corps (3d); May 7th, Butterfield's brigade (3d), Morrell's division (1st), Por¬ter's corps (5th provisional), and the subsequent movements and changes of the latter corps until the expiration of the first term of service of the regiment. After reorganization it was assigned to the first brigade, second division, fourteenth army corps, under General Sherman.

The regiment moved with the brigade, of which it was a part, towards Manassas, in the reconnoissance of March, 1862, and stopped at Fairfax Seminary. From the latter place it moved to Alexandria and embarked on the steamer " Knickerbocker" (March 21st) for Fortress Monroe, where it arrived about four o'clock on the 23d, and marched to a point about five miles from Hampton. From this point it was sent on a reconnoissance to Watts' Creek on the 26th, discovered the enemy in force and re¬turned with one prisoner. On the 17th it moved with the brigade on the reconnoissance to Big Bethel; found the fortifications deserted and returned to camp. On the 4th of April broke camp and moved towards Yorktown ; passed a recently deserted earth¬work and encamped, and on the 5th, after a march of nine miles, reached the scene of active operations in the siege of Yorktown. Here it remained engaged in picket and fatigue duty, with occasional brigade drill, until the 8th of May, when it moved to York¬town and embarked for West Point on the steamer " S. R. Spauld¬ing." It arrived at West Point on the 9th, and disembarked in pontoon boats ; remained two or three days and then moved onto Cumberland. This march was very severe. The enemy had ob¬structed the roads with fallen trees and set the woods on fire, and the march was spent in removing the one and suffering from the heat of the other. At Cumberland it remained one day and then moved on to White House, where it remained one week ; from thence by easy marches to the Chickahominy, and encamped on Dr. Gaines farm.

Nothing of special interest occurred until the 27th, when the regiment moved with the brigade to attack the enemy at Hanover Court House. After a fatiguing march of about fourteen miles the enemy was met about two miles from the Court House, where the road joins to Ashland with guide-board marked. " To Richmond, seven miles--to Poll Green Church, two miles." The regiment was here ordered through a wood skirted by the road towards Richmond, and emerged in a cornfield on the right flank of the enemy's howitzer battery. A few volleys were fired and the enemy fled, leaving one gun and caisson, which the regiment immediately seized and turned upon its late possessors. The rout was complete, and after a short time spent in " going through" the camp which the enemy had left, the regiment moved on to the Court House. Meanwhile the enemy had made a vigorous attack on the rear of our division, but were repulsed ; the force engaged on the right being now thrown into the reserve and completing the victory. On the 28th the regiment moved, down the railroad and burned some bridges, and on the 29th returned to camp on the Gaines farm.

The regiment remained in camp, with the usual picket and fatigue details, until the 20th of June, when it was aroused at half-past 3. A. M., and moved at daylight in light marching order, with three days' rations, by way of Coal Harbor, to Old Church. While here the battle of Gaines' Mills was fought (Juno 27th). The regiment being in the rear was cut off from the main army, and under General Stoneman, retreated towards the White House. The distance was twenty-two miles, and the march one of great suffering. Says a correspondent : "History will not record a more hasty, timely or terrible march than this, by such worn out and fatigued men. Many fell fainting by the roadside and recovered at their leisure. The last few miles was positively awful The colonel, a good, brave man, rode bareheaded down his rapidly decimating ranks, and exclaimed, ' Men, it is hard; but if you do this today your country will not, cannot be ungrateful.' We accomplished it, and as I looked at my blistered and swollen feet, I thought painfully of other days." The result was, as had been anticipated by General McClellan when he ordered General Stone, in an to fall back to White House if cut off, the movement of the enemy in that direction was anticipated, the stores removed or destroyed, and the regiment and other forces there embarked on the gunboats. The advance of the enemy reached the place on the 29th, but was driven back by the gunboats. On the 30th the gunboats sailed for Fortress Monroe.

The Regiment reached Yorktown on the 1st of July, and there passed from the gunboat to the steamer " Catskill," subsequently to the tugboat "Adriatic," and from the latter to the steamer" Kennebec," and sailed for Harrison's landing, where it arrived on the 2d. It remained in camp at Harrison's Landing until the evacuation. In the meantime its camp was exposed to the artil¬lery of the enemy in the attack of the 30th, and one man killed ; and it was detailed on duty on opposite bank of the James in cut¬ting down timber and patroling the country. On the 14th of August it moved at midnight, and reached and crossed the Chicka¬hominy; continued the march on the 35th and passed Williams-burgh on the 16th reached Yorktown ; on the 17th marched seventeen miles, and from thence to Newport News. This was a very severe march and will be long remembered by all who parti¬cipated in it. At Newport News the regiment embarked on the steamer " Knickerbocker," passed up the Chesapeake, and ran aground soon after entering the Potomac ; was transferred to the " Alice Price," and arrived at Aquia Creek on the morning of the 20th. On the 21st it went to Fredericksburg, by railroad, and from thence marched up the Rapidan to Warrenton and Manassas, and opened the light at Groveton on the 30th. Says a corres¬pondent : " When the enemy made their sudden and powerful advance toward our center, on Saturday, Porter's corps was ordered up to meet the attack. Butterfield's brigade was sent for¬ward, the Seventeenth New York having the advance. They marched up the hill amid the fierce leaden hail, as if it had been but a pleasant summer shower. On they went, and fiercer and hotter was the fire. First a battery on the right and another on the left, opened and poured a devastating fire into their devoted ranks; but they never wavered. Faithfully did they ply their trusty muskets and held their position. Officers who witnessed the scene describe it as most terrific. Storm upon storm of bullets, grape-shot, screaming shell and pieces of railroad iron were hurled into, through and over them. Thus they stood, their ranks being thinned at every discharge. The enemy suffered too, and quickly sought the cover of the woods. At length came the order to fall back, it having been found impossible, to reinforce them. The line was still preserved, and at the command they moved off steadily and coolly, although the dreadful fire of the enemy never ceased for one moment. The colors were shot into shreds ; both flagstaffs were shot in pieces by grape-shot, and three color bear¬ers were shot down." Out of 350 men that went into this charge, 13 officers and 250 men were killed or wounded. Captains Wil¬son, Blauvelt and Demarest, and Lieutenant Reid, were among the killed, and Major T. C. Grower, at that time in command of the regiment; Acting Adjutant Sprague, and Captains Burleigh, Martin and Foley, and Lieutenants Green and Moroy were among the wounded—Major Grover wounded in four places.

The regiment fell back with the army to Fairfax, Chain Bridge, Long Bridge and Alexandria, and from thence moved to Fairfax Seminary and Hall's Hill. On the 12th of September it started on the Maryland campaign ; passed, through Georgetown and Washington, and by railroad to within five miles of Rockville; on the 13th passed through Rockville and took the road to Fred¬erick ; on the 14th reached Frederick; on the 15th to the vicinity of South Mountain; on the 16th to the vicinity of the battle-ground of Antietam. During this movement Porter's corps was in the reserve and was not engaged, although an occasional shell reached its position. On the 18th the regiment moved to Sharps-burg, and from thence to Antietam iron works. Here it was en¬gaged in picketing the Potomac and in camp duties until the 30th of October, when it moved in the direction of Harper's Ferry ; passed through that place on the 31st to the Blue Mountains; on the 2d moved on the Leesburg turnpike to Woodgrove, and then struck the road to the right, in the direction of Snickersville, and came up with and relieved Sumner's corps, who were holding Snicker's Gap ; remained at Snicker's Gap until the 6th, and then moved on the Alexandria road towards Middleburg; moved on the 7th, but compelled to bivouac in consequence of a severe snow-storm ; on the 8th followed the Alexandria and Orange rail¬road to New Baltimore, and from thence to Warrenton remained there until the 17th, and then moved to Warrenton Junction and followed the track towards Fredericksburg; 18th, continued on the march, and also on the 19th, and camped; on the 24th camped a short distance from the railroad at Falmouth.

The regiment remained in camp until the 11th of December, when it moved with the brigade in the advance on Fredericksburg. It crossed the river in the evening, participated in the movements of the brigade, and returned on the 16th with one officer (Adjutant Wilson) killed, arid two officers and four men wounded. It re¬mained in camp until the " mud march" of January 20th. From this march it returned on the 24th and went into permanent winter quarters.

On the 27th of April the regiment started on the Chancellorsville campaign, taking the main road to Kelly's Ford. It reached Hartwood Church that night, and moved forward as rapidly as possible on the 28th, 29th and 30th ; forded the Rapidan and two other streams, and arrived on the enemy's flank on the 1st. On the 2d it threw up breastworks, and on the 3d was in action, but not heavily engaged; remained in position on the 4th, and at about 2 A. M. on the 5th, moved towards United States Ford; covered the retreat and was the last to cross. It reached camp at Falmouth on the 6th. On the 12th its three years men, thirty-four in number were transferred to the 12th battalion under Capt. Hudson ;* on the 18th it left camp for New York, where it was mustered out on the 22d.

* The reference here is to the members of company G., who had been transferred from the Fifty-third. These men refused to do duty on the ground that their term of service had expired, and were under arrest for some time. They finally returned to duty and were transferred to company F, One Hundred and forty-sixth New York.